Guidelines for members

When we come together to rehearse and perform one of our three main concerts in a season, or for other events that we usually feed in (including, we hope, yearly summer repertoire weekends), there’s an excitement and sense of togetherness that defines the way many of our players feel about APO – with some referring to the ‘APO family’. Maybe this feeling is generated from the intensity of starting to rehearse for a concert just a month before the performance, with most of the rehearsals in the two weeks before.

There’s a straightforward desire to create a brilliant musical experience for our audience, to show them how powerful the music we love can be. We challenge them and ourselves by programming less well-known works amongst the popular classics, and by commissioning and promoting new music, with at least one commission every year. This pushes us out of our comfort zone as musicians, testing our technique and emotions.

All of the above isn’t possible without a disciplined approach. We work tremendously hard in rehearsals, of course, but these wouldn’t be half as productive without attention to communication, preparation and practice from every single player before and during the rehearsal period – as well as a commitment to do our very best to attend each and every rehearsal – every single player is vital, regardless of what part they’re playing. The absence of one player out of an orchestra of 50 has much more than a 2% impact on the effectiveness of our time together.

And all this as volunteers, giving up precious time whilst we lead our busy lives, with competing demands clamouring for attention. When you consider this, it makes the energy, commitment and results of our efforts even more remarkable.

Rehearsal model and practice/preparation expectations

APO is a project-based orchestra, with rehearsals starting, in earnest, scarily close to each concert date! We don’t have weeks and weeks to assimilate the music, so to ensure that the intensive rehearsal model works, we set out some expectations of how members should practice/prepare. All the below is a picture of an ideal world; we’re all amateur musicians and competing demands in our lives don’t always permit an ideal approach to practice and preparation. So, please take the below as encouragement, rather than orders!

For a standard concert, the rehearsal model consists of six main rehearsal events, which are usually in the following timescale before each concert:


Name Date Timings Venue Type of rehearsal
Rehearsal 1 4 weekends before concert Saturday Afternoon only

(with morning for bowing for section leads etc)

Reading Blue Coat School (RBCS), Sonning Tutti
Rehearsal 2 4 weekends before concert Sunday all day

(10.30 – 4.30)

RBCS, Sonning Sectional am

Sectional pm

Rehearsal 3 2 weekends before concert Sunday all day

(10.30 – 4.30)

RBCS, Sonning Tutti
Rehearsal 4 Weekend before concert Saturday Afternoon only

(with morning for optional development activities)

Evening Social event

RBCS, Sonning Tutti
Rehearsal 5 Weekend before concert Sunday all day

(10.30 – 4.30)

RBCS, Sonning Tutti
Friday Rehearsal Day before concert 7.30 – 9.45 RBCS, Sonning Tutti
General Rehearsal Day of concert 1.30 – 5.00 Concert venue Tutti


Some concerts may occasionally have fewer rehearsal hours, but the above is the norm for an APO concert.

Because we start rehearsing so close to the concert, there’s little time to ‘assimilate’ the music, so we ask that before the first rehearsal you listen to the works in the programme to ‘get into them’ and, if possible, have a look through parts available on the Internet or in extract books. Andrew may post some links to good recordings on the Rehearsal Resources website (often available on YouTube or streaming services) and interesting articles/notes on the pieces. Andrew may also post up markings for parts. If these can be put in outside of rehearsals, it saves lots of time.

Fixing process

All of APO’s activities rely on the goodwill of volunteer musicians, who choose to spend their precious free time making great music. Whether playing in a small chamber ensemble or a huge orchestra/choir, every member is vital, even in large sections such as the strings. We therefore advocate a ‘full attendance’ policy, underpinned by intelligent rehearsal scheduling and a thorough fixing process. As dates are provided in advance, we hope that all players will prioritise attending all rehearsals – having all players at every rehearsal makes such a vast difference to the quality of the rehearsal and your enjoyment of the APO playing experience.

We fix for each event about four months beforehand. This is far enough in advance for us to get early sight of any gaps and close enough for members to commit. Fixing is done via an online fixing form. As well as asking which rehearsals members can and can’t make for that concert (we hope all of them!), we include dates for future rehearsals, concerts and events, and ask for an initial commitment to them.

The next event is fixed in detail, with members specifying which sessions they can make and any other relevant information. Fixing for events beyond that are an indication of initial commitment, with members marking one of the following:

  • I’ve noted the rehearsal and concert dates in my diary and have reserved them for APO.
  • I know for certain that I won’t be able to take part in this concert due to something else in my diary.

Asking for this indication of availability/commitment, up to a year ahead, is very important, as it enables the committee, and especially section coordinators, to deal with any issues early. With each new fixing form, members will find themselves reconfirming an indication/commitment already made. Not only does this mean that we have the very latest information, it’s easier for us to process the information, that way!

The initial contacts for fixing are:

The Music Director recognises that there are plenty of good reasons why players may not be able to make a rehearsal or a concert and is very happy to negotiate limited attendance in such circumstances. Please contact him directly to discuss on


Due to the limited space in the wind/percussion pool, we ask that applicants for wind/percussion membership be available for two out of three concerts in a season.

The wind/percussion pool usually consists of the following:

  • Three members of each woodwind section
  • Four ‘regular’ horn players
  • Three trumpets
  • Three trombones (including a bass trombone) and a tuba
  • Three percussionists, two of whom must be able to play timpani/tuned percussion

As long as the criteria above can be complied with (and bearing in mind the commitment and standards sections, below) then preference will usually be given to existing members.

Clearly, if no applicants are able to meet the minimum commitment criteria as laid out above, the Music Director will make a decision on how to proceed. In the case of there being more applicants than there are places, a reserve list will be created. This may be especially relevant if reserves are specialist ‘auxiliary’ (e.g. cor anglais, contrabassoon, bass clarinet, euphonium etc.) players, and none of the three members of a section can play/desire to play that particular ‘auxiliary’ instrument to a suitable standard.

There are two options for allocations of parts:

  1. Players opt to play in all pieces for specific concerts.
  2. Players opt to play in specific pieces for all concerts.

This will depend heavily on the orchestration of the music that is to be performed throughout the season. The horns are the best example, here. There may be only 2 required for one programme, whereas another may only require 2 for the first half, but 4 + bump for the second half. A classical programme may not offer particularly interesting and fulfilling horn parts, so it would certainly follow that it would not be worth disrupting the weekends of 4 different players to play basic parts in the three different pieces. Therefore, for that particular concert, it may be worth sticking with the same two players for all three pieces, whereas other concerts within the season may present better opportunities for sharing parts.

The allocation of parts will also depend on the ability of the players. Some players, who may be up to the general standard of the section (see the later section on standards), may lack the confidence and/or technique to take on 1st parts. Likewise, certain players may show a particular aptitude for an ‘auxiliary’ instrument, such as piccolo, cor anglais, Eb clarinet, etc. (though every effort will be made not to ‘pigeon hole’ these players in these positions).

The Music Director will try to take individuals’ preferences into account. This may not always be possible. The most important aim of the Music Director is to allocate the parts fairly. Getting the balance right is a difficult challenge. Members are encouraged to enter an active dialogue with the Music Director if there are queries, while ultimately respecting decisions once they are finalised.

In order to give visibility of future part allocations in the woodwind and brass sections, members will have view only access to a Google Sheet showing which members of the wind pool have made which commitment to which project, and planned part allocations up to a year ahead.

Wind pool players who are unable to attend a rehearsal are expected to arrange a suitable dep.

String seating

The Music Director tries to rotate the string seating from concert to concert, taking into account all stated preferences as far as possible. No inference should be drawn from any individual placement – a player on the back desk is just as important as the front. Front desk players, particularly section leaders, are selected from the more confident players and, generally speaking, only if they can attend all or the vast majority of rehearsals. Players of all abilities and confidence are equally mixed throughout the rest of the sections.

Section principals are expected to liaise closely with the leader to co-ordinate bowings and other aspects of string technique, to achieve a unified sound. A working bowing should be made available to each section no less than one week before Rehearsal 1. It may be necessary for section leaders to meet soon after the Rehearsal 1, to have a bowing rehearsal.

Commitment and Musical Development

It is vital that the commitment criteria laid out above are followed up, not only with fulfilment of the agreed rehearsals and concerts, but also by virtue of players’ commitment to learning pieces outside rehearsals and keeping momentum going towards a concert through regular practise.

Where possible, members are strongly encouraged to take lessons with a suitable teacher. It is vital that players continually strive to develop their capabilities. Teachers will also be able to identify bad habits players have grown into, as well as offer their experience on specific repertoire.

The orchestra seeks to engage professional tutors to take sectionals for each concert. In addition, for Wind/Percussion players (who tend to have sectionals with the Music Director), the Music Director will seek to organise additional development opportunities.

It is unfair on all the members of the orchestra if one or two players do not show an appropriate overall level of commitment. The Music Director will, in consultation with the APO Committee, ask players whose commitment is lacking to leave the orchestra.

Standards and Feedback

It is very important, as part of our continual development as musicians, to receive open and honest feedback as to how we are playing and what we can do to improve. Therefore, the Music Director will provide informal feedback to members on areas for individual improvement.

The Music Director will be open and honest with any player who does not meet the standards laid out in this document. When such a scenario occurs, it may be necessary for the Music Director to decide that it is not possible for playing membership of the orchestra or choir to continue. In this case, there are a number of options for development that the Music Director may suggest, including:

  • playing in rehearsals but not performances
  • playing in other local ensembles which offer a better chance of development from the player’s current standard
  • playing in smaller chamber ensembles to develop specific skills

In such situations, as well as with specific part allocations, the Music Director will base any decisions purely on musical ability. Any extra-musical issues, whether positive or negative, will continue to be dealt with by the Executive Committee, in line with the orchestra’s constitution.

The Music Director will seek, when necessary, advice from the APO Committee and any other parties he deems necessary (in an appropriate, honest and discreet manner), when making any decisions about the playing membership.

As always with such documents, there may be exceptions to some of the policies outlined above. However, in all musical matters, the Music Director’s decision is final.

Communications with members

All members will be invited to join the ‘APO Players’ Facebook group which is used to share updates on upcoming concerts, reminders and other useful things like lift sharing. All rehearsal schedules and upcoming concerts are posted on our website (, and we will also email members with news of upcoming concerts, fixing or rehearsal matters. We acknowledge that not everyone is active on Facebook so we will aim to share information on email as well as Facebook. If you do not have email or Facebook, please let the Chair know on or 07967 218299 and we will endeavour to find an appropriate means of communication for you.

Concert Dress

Our evening concert dress is smart, elegant, long black for ladies and black tie for gentlemen. A splash of colour is allowed in accessories, bow ties and cummerbunds. If we’re performing a concert / event with a different dress code, we will give you plenty of notice (at rehearsals, on the website and on the Facebook group)

Personal details

It is important you keep us up to date with any changes to your details, particularly email address as this is our key route for communication with you, but also mobile telephone numbers. In addition, we like to hold your home addresses for the purposes of sending out music and other paper communication if required.

If you need to change your details at any time, please drop an email and they will ensure the rest of the committee update any other relevant distribution lists, as well as our main contact list document.

How to order tickets to our concerts

The most convenient way to order tickets, for collection on the door via our Box Office, is via our website on the page for the next concert. We rely on ticket sales to support APO financially but, equally important, the more tickets we sell, the more buzzy the atmosphere for our concerts which really helps make all of our hard work in rehearsals worthwhile! Please do try and sell as many tickets as you can for each concert, and perhaps even encourage your friends and family to become Patrons (

For the 17/18 season, we’re trialling an Early Bird rate for all our concerts, to encourage people to book their tickets nice and early! We’ll let you know when the Early Bird rate lasts until for each concert so that you can get in there and buy your tickets at that rate.

What you as a member can do to help us

The committee are a dedicated bunch, but we really do appreciate your support too! Things you can do to help us out and make the whole rehearsal/concert process easier includes:

  • Arriving 20 minutes early to a rehearsal to help set out chairs. You should always aim to arrive in plenty of time to allow your instrument to warm up and to tune so the rehearsals start on time.
  • Bringing in the odd packet of biscuits, or offering to bring the milk for us one weekend. The milk and biscuits are provided by the goodwill of the committee, so any offers of support are very gratefully received!
  • Helping pack away at the end of rehearsals and concerts. It takes just as long to put the chairs away as it took to get them out. If everyone disappears as soon as we finish, this is left to just a couple of us to pack everything away, so your support is also appreciated.
  • Telling us about events where we can cover some publicity to widen our audience target.
  • Making any new APO members feel nice and welcome by introducing them to your APO friends in rehearsals.
  • Coming out and helping give out leaflets after other concerts in the area, particularly if you are in that concert, either as a player or audience!